Ansley Asher

writing thoughts

Don’t Start There!

So whenever you want to write a story, you have to start at the beginning and write all the way to the end, right?

NO! You don’t have to–especially if your concept of the start is a little shaky, but you have this superior idea for the middle. Write the middle instead! Write whatever scenes are clearest to you even if they’re supposed to be the last. Do the “drudge work” of connecting them at your regular daily writing session. The point is to get something down before you lose the spark, the desire to create. You can clean the story up later. You can even change it so that it’s nothing like your first draft. But you might not start the work at all if you don’t write something down.

It’s always better to write something than nothing. Give yourself (and the story) a fair chance by writing the most inspirational parts first.


Inspiration Closer Than You Think

While browsing, I saw a link to something called “Leonard’s Everyday Inspirations” on I don’t know if the title means that the inspirations come daily or if that means they’re common place. But in the video I saw, NBC News Correspondent Mike Leonard shares his tips for sniffing out great news stories by using the Yellow Pages. He talks about siren factories, dirt, and why planes aren’t painted blue–but mostly about how inspirational the phone book is.

At first I thought it was crazy. But the video really convinced me. I’d heard of people using the phone book as a source of character (or even pen) names, but not the yellow pages for topics. Maybe it will work for you!

Pruning the Vine of Creativity

Copyblogger is often extremely focused on, well, producing copy for blogs–no surprise there. But that means the advice they give isn’t easily applicable to fiction. Guest poster James Chartrand, however, polished up a little tool that has been in my own creativity toolbox for some time: Limiting yourself–your time, your ideas, your goals–to be more creative.

Perhaps creating a deadline (and sticking to it!) is what you need to give yourself a creative push. Or perhaps that blank page is giving you the illusion that the sky is the limit, and that’s intimidating. I’ll tell you that there is almost no way that you could write about absolutely anything at all. You will write about:

  • something that interests you... A pet. A person. Someone you wish you knew. Someone you wish you were.
  • in a place or setting that interests you… You’re not going to write 100,000 words about someplace you care nothing about. Unless you’re getting paid millions of dollars, I wager.
  • in a genre that interests you… You already know if you’re writing about John’s pet bunny or a serial killer. You already know you want to write middle grade or crime fiction. So you’re limited in that.
  • in a voice that interests you. How do you want to tell this story? Much will be determined by who is telling the story and why.

By realizing the limits that are already set, the story becomes the focus, and it’s easier to write. Now you can see the creativity lies in what your character says, why she says it, what she does, etc. within the constraints that make sense for the story you are trying to tell.

Of course you can throw all this out the window. Writing is an art, after all. But if you set some limits for yourself, the story just might come a little easier.

Happy writing!

Is the Slushpile on Its Way Out?

From Jean Hannah Edelstein’s blog at The Guardian comes a post which outlines HarperCollins’ possible new plan to eliminate their slushpile. They’re betaing a website called Authonomy where writers can submit up to 10,000 words of their unsolicited submissions to be judged by peers. The assumption then is that, should enough people like your work, an editor at HarperCollins will look at it, according to SMP:

“HarperCollins say that Authonomy will be entirely democratic, and allow anyone to participate; either as an author, or as a reader.  They also guarantee that the most popular manuscripts (as voted by the Authonomy community) will be considered for publication.  HarperCollins also anticipates industry professionals looking for new talent to make up a ‘fair chunk’ of the readers.”

I want to be optimistic about this, but honestly it seems like a way to get writers to do HarperCollins’ work–i.e, going through the slushpile–for free. Maybe they look at it as a way for new authors to review each other’s work in order to improve, but do they really believe industry professions will join? I can’t imagine agents and editors signing up to read MORE raw submissions than their own slushpiles offer.

What I Learned from Walt Disney’s Wienie

I don’t want to spoil the surprise, but I might have to explain myself if this link:Hear 2.0: “It doesnt have a Wienie” ever goes bad! For a hint, it goes hand-in-hand with the World of Warcraft mantra of “concentrated coolness”–the importance of making a few things really awesome instead of spreading yourself thin.

Who knows? You might learn something from Walt Disney’s wienie, too!

Being Prolific for Life

Zen Habits has a potentially life-changing post made by guest blogger Clay Collins from The Growing Life called Living the Prolific Life: A How-to Guide. Being productive is a worthy goal: The more productive you are, the more opportunities you have to be successful. Check out his advice!

Copyediting and You: Who Really Wins?

I like Seth Godin’s blog because his advice is often relevant to so much more than marketing. In a post lovingly titled, “Sucking all the juice out,” he writes:

Just got some work back from a new copyeditor hired by my publisher. She did a flawless job. She also wrecked my work. Totally wrecked it.

By sanding off every edge, removing every idiom, making each and every fact literally correct, she made it boring and dry and mechanical.

As fiction writers, we are supposed to know the rules, and also when to break them. Editing (for ourselves and others) is an art, too. When we edit our own (or other people’s work), the desire may be to make the copy “clean,” but the goal should be to “first, do no harm.” (Since the phrase “first, do no harm” was never actually in the Hippocratic Oath, I vote we writers and editors take it. At least it will finally belong to something.)

I used to dread going to those little writer’s critique sessions because I expected there would be at least one person who did not get this. That never actually happened, however. In fact, most of us were real newbies who wouldn’t know an elliptical phrase if it tripped us and stole our donuts. I am not sure where I am going with this, but you read this far so I suppose I should be polite and wrap this up. I think the real problem is that when you pay someone to do something they went to school for years to improve, they try really hard to do it well, especially if they like their job and want to keep it. Maybe the weirdest thing about this is that I can’t imagine a human actually changing, “I got a baker’s dozen of donuts and a cup of Joe then hit the streets,” to “I bought exactly 13 donuts and a coffee and left through the door because the window would be silly.” And, actually, that’s an elliptical phrase there, so it would have been changed to, “because leaving through the window would be silly,” since the copyeditor in question apparently copyedited all that human stuff out. Does that mean his copyeditor’s office is hiring grammar robots instead of people? Are they admitting robots into colleges now? And most importantly, I wish I had some donuts to go with this coffee, but I think that elliptical phrase took them. And that’s not a question. Didn’t it seem like I was going to end with another question? Maybe I should. Have. Crap.